Over 200,000 Bedouins live in Israel’s Negev region – about one third of the region’s population. The Negev Bedouins are among the most socioeconomically disadvantaged groups in Israel, lagging behind the general population in education, employment, income, and infrastructure:
- As of 2016, all Bedouin localities – and only Bedouin localities – are in the lowest cluster in terms of socioeconomic ranking (ranked 1 on a scale of 1-10).
- Just 30% of all 18 year-old Bedouins earn a full high school matriculation certification, compared with 48% of Arab citizens and 53% overall.
- In 2014, just under 5% of Bedouins between the ages of 20-29 were pursuing a degree at a higher education institution, compared with 8% of Arabs and 14% overall.
- Employment rate among Bedouin men (56%) and women (24%) are significantly lower than among Arab citizens (80% for men, 35% for women) and Jewish citizens (90% for men, 85% for women).
- Average personal income in the Bedouin community stands at NIS 1,180, compared with the national average of NIS 5,255.
- One third of Bedouins live in unrecognized villages. These villages lack proper educational facilities, commercial infrastructure, and are cut off from access to public transportation.
This reality means that the Bedouin community is largely detached from access to economic opportunity and social mobility in Israel. Government support to the community focuses largely on low-income employment and education initiatives. As a result, Bedouin participation in Israel’s technology industry, the country’s main economic growth engine, is practically non-existent. Because of its exclusion from the industry, the Bedouin community is completely unaware of what the tech industry is about, and of the economic benefit it can provide. Therefore, the low but steadily increasing number of Bedouin young people who are able to pursue higher education overwhelmingly study medicine or health sciences – professionals that are held in high regard by the community. In 2017, less than 30 Bedouin college and university students studied STEM subjects, or science, technology, engineering, and math. In its exclusion from the tech industry, the Bedouin community misses an immense opportunity for economic growth, diversity of professional trajectories, increase in per capita income, and even communal financial sustainability.
The Siraj NGO aims to catalyze and lead the entrance of Bedouin engineers into the Israeli tech industry. Siraj takes a holistic approach to achieving this aim, which includes: building awareness among Bedouin community members and schools about the tech industry; encouraging and offering additional technical and soft-skills training to Bedouin college and university graduates; and recruitment of candidates to work in the industry. Siraj is set apart from other initiatives in the space of workforce integration and development, because it emphasizes the importance of creating a demand for Bedouin talent by establishing a social business, the tech company Siraj Technologies Ltd., that will primarily hire Bedouin engineers. By definition the Siraj NGO will always hold majority ownership of Siraj Ltd.